When people think of industries most susceptible to COVID-19, the obvious answer is the people working in hospitals, emergency rooms, and doctor’s offices who come in direct contact with people with the virus every day.
However, a recent study done by the University of California San Francisco found that deaths in the food and agriculture industry jumped by 39% during the pandemic. The same study found that line cooks are at the highest risk of dying from COVID-19. Workers in the foodservice industry are experiencing more casualties than those working on the front lines of the pandemic.
The understated danger and lack of protections for workers like grocery store clerks and food service workers is something to consider as students slowly return back to campus in the fall.
Community colleges are in a unique position with regards to the transition to in-person learning. Many students at Fullerton College are not just going to college then back home, they are also going to work in jobs that require a lot of face-to-face contact with other people, increasing their risk for COVID-19.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, as of 2018, 43% of full-time college students are employed; that number jumps to 81% for part time students. At Fullerton College, 65.2% of students work part-time.
The CDC has issued consideration for restaurants and bars to minimize harm. Options like curbside pickup, outdoor dining, and mask requirements for employees have been put in place. However, while employers give employees the training and guidance to work in safe conditions, the same cannot be said for the customers.
“Workers follow rules quite well, and nobody takes their mask off unless it’s to eat or drink water, “ said art history major Jaelyn Farone on the safety conditions at the ramen restaurant she works at. “Customers, on the other hand, often come in without a mask to pick up orders. when this happens, we are told to just give them their food anyway.”
Despite the presence of an ongoing pandemic, jobs like these are still necessary for students to support themselves. In a conversation with Health Education Coordinator Kelly Salazar, there is an increasing number of options to help protect students who find themselves needed to work and attend school in-person during the fall semester.
The CDC put education, food service, grocery, agriculture, childcare, and emergency service workers within Phase 1B, Tier 1 of vaccine distribution. While Orange County is currently in phase 1A of vaccine distribution, those who work or live in Los Angeles County are eligible to sign up for an appointment to get vaccinated.
“Even after you get vaccinations, it is recommended that you still wear a mask,” Salazar said. “If someone’s exposed and they’re fully vaccinated, the symptoms are a lot less severe.”
While more classes are moving on-campus, the majority of classes will be remote. When students do arrive on campus, Salazar said that the college would continue using a screening system put in place for existing in-person classes.
First, students fill out a checklist through the Fullerton College app then visit a check-in site at the 700 building where they are asked whether or not they are experiencing any symptoms, or if they have been exposed. After a final temperature check, students will receive a wristband to verify their safety.
For more information on vaccine eligibility and appointments visit myturn.ca.gov or othena.com